I wake up at 5.30am and fetch water for bathing from a communal borehole in the village. My preparation for work continues until 7.30am, when I get on my bicycle. I clock in at 8am.
I am an assistant environmental educator at Chipembele Wildlife Education Trust, a charitable organisation that focuses its efforts on the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. My job is to inspire young people to conserve our rich wildlife even when animals and humans are in conflict over resources and land. These problems led to the extinction of the black rhino in our region in the late 1980s.
My first task is to check the Chipembele grounds, including our botanical garden and nature conservancy, for animal damage that may have occurred during the night, especially damage caused by elephants, which are present throughout the year. Then I settle down with my laptop. I have only learned how to use it in the past year and it helps me considerably in preparing lessons.
I teach at six local schools, each of which has two conservation clubs. They have about 400 active members aged between 12 and 19, although one member has returned to school at the age of 43.
Often my morning planning is interrupted by bush fires, or by conservation students seeking help with their studies, general maintenance around the grounds or international visitors. Sometimes students bring in orphaned wildlife, usually baby birds, but we do get the occasional primate and last year we had to respond to an orphaned elephant and a hippopotamus. We are constantly scanning the skies for circling vultures, which can indicate poacher activity. Dealing with this is also one of my responsibilities.
I finish preparing my lessons by 12.30pm, when I cycle home to make lunch. At 2pm, I return to Chipembele to run two-hour classes and activities.
One of my favourite lessons debunks popular myths about wildlife. For instance, many local people believe that chameleons are poisonous and that they give birth by throwing themselves from the top of a tree to rip open their stomachs, so the babies receive life at the expense of their mother. The truth is that chameleons lay eggs and are harmless. A more dangerous myth is that if you're bitten by a python you become immune to all venomous snake bites. It's not true, of course, but people have grown up believing it. This confusion only fuels the conflict between humans and wildlife.
Our lessons and activities are primarily designed to teach the importance of the ecosystem and how valuable wildlife is to the tourism industry, which is the main source of income to our community. I am very lucky that my job is aligned with my passion, which is to inspire children to conserve wildlife for generations to come.
I return to the office by 5pm to help close it down for the day. On my way home, I may join a game of football or visit friends. Then I cook the evening meal before settling down to prepare my mind for another big day.
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